Options and costs for replacing Ladder 26

(photo from the Southborough Fire Department)
(photo from the Southborough Fire Department)

(This is part 5 in a series of posts about the proposal for a new aerial ladder truck in Southborough. For more information, see the series introduction.)

When you buy a new car, what’s the first thing you do? You take it for a test drive, right? That’s exactly what the Aerial Ladder Study Group did … only test driving a fire truck sounds a whole lot more interesting than test driving a Toyota.

The group brought ladder trucks from all major manufacturers to a number of sites around town, including Woodward, Trottier, Pilgrim Church, the Town House, the Arts Center, a commercial building on Route 9, and a few residential properties.

They checked out turning radii, and whether the trucks could handle steep grades without bottoming out. They tested whether the ladders were long enough to reach the buildings. They looked at how long it took to set up the aerial device and how stable it was. And a host of other criteria.

Fire Chief John Mauro Jr. said the goal was to find a truck that could provide service to “the vast majority of people.”

The tests led the study group to recommend a mid-mount quint with a ladder reach of about 100 feet. Let me break that down for you.

Mid-mount is where the ladder is mounted on the truck. The other option is rear-mount. Mid-mount trucks have a shorter wheelbase, which means it’s easier for the truck to navigate around tight corners. And a 100-foot reach means that, for example, the truck could park in the driveway of a two-story colonial and the ladder would extend far enough across the roof for firefighters to reach a fire.

And what about this quint business? A quint is a combination ladder/pumper truck. It combines the functions of a ladder truck and a pumper truck in one vehicle. The town already has three pumper engines, why would we need another? Again, it comes down to access.

Unless a house is situated near the street, you’re probably only going to get one fire truck up close to it. It’s advantageous to have both a ladder truck and a pumping engine as close to the fire as possible, but most driveways simply aren’t wide enough to accommodate two fire trucks. With a quint, you only need one.

Finding the funds
The technical specs are all fine and dandy, but how do you pay for the thing? A quint meeting Southborough’s specifications costs in the neighborhood of $1 million. That’s a lot of money, particularly these days.

How about purchasing a used ladder truck? Southborough has a long history of secondhand purchases: the last three ladder trucks, going back to 1967, were purchased used. The recently-decommissioned Ladder 26 was purchased used for $100,000 in 1994.

But as of last fall, the Aerial Ladder Study Group claimed there were no used trucks on the market that met Southborough’s specifications. They also cite concerns about maintenance and upkeep on used vehicles. For those reasons, the study group recommends a new truck.

To my knowledge, the dilemma of where to find $1 million for a new ladder truck hasn’t been solved, but it seems likely the money would come from a number of sources. If they got a quint, the Fire Department could sell one of their other fire engines to offset the cost, said Fire Chief John Mauro Jr. And organizers of the Fire Ball are hoping to raise $50,000 to $75,000 through donations.

The quint would have ladders long enough to reach the dorms at Fay and St. Mark’s, but since the schools don’t pay property taxes, they would need to volunteer some cash toward the purchase. (It’s interesting to note here that Chief Mauro told the Advisory Committee at a meeting last year that the main dorm at St. Mark’s is one of the “scariest” buildings in town in terms of fire fighting.)

Other funding options include a one-time debt exclusion or the use of free cash. The Advisory Committee plans to talk about funding for a ladder truck at a public meeting later this month.

To buy or not to buy
There is currently an article on the warrant to allocate $950,000 toward the purchase of a new ladder truck, so it’s likely Town Meeting voters will get their say.

How will you vote? Are we running too great a risk by not having a ladder truck in town? Or can we get by without one?

Share your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to take the poll in the sidebar to the right.

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15 years ago

Just a reminder: If the town were to follow the recommendations of the committee and purchase a new Quint, the old aerial ladder would be scrapped (yes, junked) and one engine would be traded in. While reducing the size of the fleet, you still have everything you need.

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